Oz prequel not so great

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

S James Franco’s fraud­u­lent wizard points out in Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful: ‘‘I’m just not the man you wanted me to be.’’

By this point in Dis­ney’s longth­reat­ened, $200 mil­lion prequel to you-know-what, it’s clear Franco is as mis­cast here as he was as an Os­car host.

Di­rec­tor Sam Raimi’s dull, kitschy and over­long patch­work is sadly an epic fail, de­spite the pres­ence of Michelle Wil­liams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Ku­nis as a trio of witches.

Un­like Dis­ney’s 1985 flop se­quel Re­turn to Oz, this prequel in­vites in­vid­i­ous com­par­isons to the beloved 1939 clas­sic.

It opens in a black-and-white Kansas where seedy cir­cus il­lu­sion­ist Os­car Diggs (Franco) learns his old flame (Wil­liams) is go­ing to marry a man named Gale.

That’s the clos­est the film comes to even in­di­rectly ref­er­enc­ing the beloved Dorothy Gale, though the thin script – by Mitchell Kapner ( The Whole Nine Yards) and play­wright David Lindsay-Abaire (an­i­mated Wizard knock­off Ro­bots) – sends Os­car (stage name Oz) on a sus­pi­ciously sim­i­lar jour­ney.

When the wom­an­is­ing Os­car seeks to es­cape an an­gry strong­man in a bal­loon, a tor­nado blows him off course into Oz. There, he first en­coun­ters Theodora (Ku­nis), a witch who mis­takes him for the wizard proph­e­sied by the mur­dered king.

She takes Os­car to the Emer­ald City, where her older sis­ter and royal ad­viser Evanora (Weisz) tells him the throne and un­told wealth is his – all Os­car has to is kill a third witch, their sworn en­emy Glinda (Wil­liams again).

It’s not ex­actly hard to fig­ure out who’s good and who’s bad here or who will end up be­com­ing the Wicked Witch of the West (called the Wicked Witch of the South for le­gal rea­sons) – even if you haven’t seen the spoiler-filled trail­ers or mer­chan­dise.

A much, much big­ger prob­lem is that it’s hard to care what hap­pens to the cow­ardly, greedy Os­car and his co­horts, an an­noy­ing fly­ing mon­key (voiced by Zach Braff) and a bor­ing China doll (Joey King).

Even­tu­ally, Os­car leads a siege of Emer­ald City that seems to go on longer than The Lord of the Rings: The Re­turn of the King.

It’s all im­per­son­ally di­rected by Raimi ( Spi­der­Man tril­ogy), who re­sorts to spe­cial ef­fects – some ad­mit­tedly im­pres­sive – to dis­guise the ab­sence of the emo­tional res­o­nance and co­her­ent sto­ry­telling that made The Wizard of Oz so mem­o­rable.

Weisz gives the film’s only good per­for­mance as the schem­ing, English-ac­cented Evanora. Wil­liams does what she can as the beau­ti­ful but sick­en­ingly sweet Glinda but Ku­nis fares worst as mis­guided Theodora, done in by a poor script and some truly un­for­tu­nate makeup and pros­thetic breasts.

Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful will likely ap­peal mostly to kids who have had min­i­mal ex­po­sure to The Wizard of Oz – though par­ents should be warned there are scary at­tacks by fanged fly­ing ba­boons that helped earn the film its PG rat­ing.

opens to­day.

Mila Ku­nis and James Franco in

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